COVID-19 Response: Four Strategic Imperatives CIOs Can Support
Mar 20, 2020
Business leaders are scrambling to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic. This comprehensive team effort requires redefining existing processes, work teams, and reporting structures, compensation and incentive plans, and more. For CIOs, the immediate priority is to rapidly deploy the infrastructure, application and support resources needed to enable home-based employees to work in a productive, collaborative and secure manner.
Beyond the urgent task of empowering a remote workforce, CIOs can directly support four critical tasks currently facing all businesses:
Focus on the Customer Experience
During a crisis of any kind, maintaining a responsive posture where customers can easily reach you – even if the news is bad – is essential. Customers who are kept in the dark, and who are kept waiting, will remember long after this crisis is past. Specific actions CIOs can take to support this objective include ensuring that CMOs have the automation, analytical, and intelligence tools needed to monitor social media channels for references to the company – especially those gaining traction.
Maintain Operational Effectiveness and Resiliency
Businesses developing their coronavirus response strategies are focused on maintaining operations – identifying critical staff and functions needed to enable cash flow and keep people employed. By implementing an integrated command center that monitors activities and communicates with business leaders, operational staff and customers, the CIO can ensure the management of critical functions such as cash flow and customer responsiveness.
More specifically, CIOs need to support back-office operational efficiency with limited (if any) onsite resources. For areas requiring personnel to interact, strategies must segment and replace infected staff and address decontamination requirements. If a co-worker is sick, for example, isolation and disinfecting are required to mitigate the spread of new infections.
In addition, organizing cross-functional teams categorized by expertise, proximity to the worksite and family status can help prepare a business for an emergency. Simple procedures such as separate entrances and exits, safe rooms for workers who suddenly fall ill and testing employees and family members for symptoms can reduce operational disruptions. Maintaining existing equipment, conducting inventory counts, shutting down non-critical servers, and identifying parts will help prepare for a crucial situation. Expanding telecom networks and identifying alternatives for providing resiliency such as secure mobile/WiFi hot spots will prepare for high traffic patterns.
If a crisis continues for longer than anticipated, be prepared identify departments, personnel and equipment that can be considered non-critical or can be reacquired if needed. The priority is to keep the business functioning and to support existing and new customers – who will long remember the businesses that helped them stay afloat during the wave of uncertainty. Finally, security cannot be ignored. Protecting cyber borders is essential, as nefarious actors will seek to take advantage of the chaos to leave payloads, steal IP and cause a wide range of disruptions. The CIO and their teams must ensure that digital and physical footprints are secure, whether on-premises, remotely managed, or in the Cloud.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Maintaining the lines of internal communication is similarly critical. Regular newsletters, online forums, and web conferences can keep employees reassured and informed – and less susceptible to the inevitable rumors and misinformation that circulate during a crisis. A “war room” structure – comprising business operations marketing, legal, customer support and HR – can help ensure communication of critical updates regarding operational and business impacts, personal and member health, resource allocation and security.
For the CIO, over-communication is essential, and can include frequent advisories to business leadership and daily calls with front-line staff and customers. Isolation, invisibility and ambiguity, meanwhile, will be more damaging than full physical outage. By showing leadership during a crisis, CIOs can leverage their expertise to manage the noise and confusion with clarity, consistency and focus that internal staff and customers alike will appreciate.
While the current crisis is still in its early days, savvy businesses are already looking ahead to how they can improve their operational resiliency in response to future disasters. Once the smoke clears, knowing what was done to enable resiliency in response to COVID-19 will inform future strategies for all business leaders.
For the CIO, lessons learned will focus on the power of digital – specifically, the characteristics of remote access, fluidity and agility. Put simply, digital enables communication and contact between all layers of an organization. As a business’ digital leader, the CIO is positioned to provide transparency when times appear dark and confusing. In today’s flat and interdependent world, the relationships between internal businesses and external suppliers become increasingly muddied. In the process, supply and service delivery chains become more fragile, and more susceptible to future crises.
In assessing their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, questions that a CIO should ask include:
- How could I have been more agile?
- What are my internal and external co-dependencies?
- How can I reduce my co-dependencies on supply chains, geo-locations and specific staffing models?
- How do I ensure I have the right expertise available when needed?
- Are my disaster recovery plans divisional, regional or global?
- How do I communicate effectively now and going forward across all facets of my organization?
- Why was I not prepared?
- If I was prepared, how can I help other businesses in the future?
The takeaway: Every crisis presents an opportunity to learn, grow and expand.